Can crisis talks save Stormont?

Theresa Villiers has suggested control over welfare policy could be handed back to Westminster


The secretary of state for Northern Ireland, Theresa Villiers, will this evening hold crisis talks in Belfast amidst what already feels like a collapse of the devolved institutions.

DUP first minister Peter Robinson yesterday took the decision that the cross party executive would not be meeting for the foreseeable future, except in extreme circumstances, a sign that Northern Ireland’s governing institutions have already ground to a halt.

The crisis talks follow allegations of IRA involvement in murder of Kevin McGuigan in Belfast last month.

Villiers further heightened the sense of crisis over the weekend when she suggested that Westminster might take back from Stormont control over welfare policy.

This caused an immediate backlash, with Sinn Fein’s deputy first minister Martin McGuinness arguing that ‘any move by the British government to impose its welfare cuts agenda over the heads of the Assembly and Executive will seriously undermine devolution and the political institutions’.

With Sky News today also reporting that the police investigation into McGuigan’s murder is probing the very top of the IRA hierarchy, this could well prove to be one crisis too many for Stormont.

But speaking to the House of Commons earlier this afternoon, Villiers argued against the DUP’s call for a suspension of the institutions in Northern Ireland pending the outcome of talks.

Arguing that she believes all parties in the Northern Ireland Executive are committed to pursuit of politics through peaceful means, she nevertheless recognised ‘that the fallout from the murder of Kevin McGuigan and the continued existence of PIRA (Provisional IRA) structures is a cause of grave concern.’

In his analysis, the BBC’s political editor in Northern Ireland Mark Devenport has noted that it ‘remains far from certain’ whether the current crisis can be averted.

Ed Jacobs is a contributing editor at Left Foot Forward. Follow him on Twitter

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